What is Infrastructure Architecture?
I will be the first to say that it’s a very broad role title and I’ve asked a number of people what it is, every one of them gave me a different answer.
To add complexity to what is already a complex area is the growth in Cloud infrastructure which has and will continue to change the role of the infrastructure architect. I’ve heard this referred to by a college as a virtual architect, a comment that I thought was very fitting.
Architecting a Data centre deployment today is a very different task than it was even 3 years ago, let alone 5 to 10 years ago. Virtualisation came along and turned everything on its head and changed an entire profession in a staggeringly short period of time, and now cloud is coming along and could do the same thing for many people and organisations. Careful and accurate sizing, location, power consumption, rack location, connection type, etc. are now unnecessary for applications in a datacentre where you are consuming IaaS or SaaS offerings. In an example of your own Data Centre or Infrastructure you may be able to increase you compute or Memory capacity by adding blades to an existing Blade chassis without any additional rack space consumed.
In today’s infrastructure it’s not at all uncommon for an infrastructure architect to build something that is running entirely on a virtual infrastructure and doesn’t consume or require the additional of any new hardware. Recently I architected and deployed an infrastructure consisting of Firewalls, Routers, Switching, load balancers, multi-tiered applications, domain services, and client access all without touching a physical piece of kit or even walking into the data centre. I believe this will continue to become more common all the time.
So what is an Infrastructure Architect?
An Infrastructure architect is the person or people who take the requirements and constraints defined by the the business, collaborate with the key stakeholders and staff, and design the supporting environment for the solution. Infrastructure Architects will normally work very closely with Enterprise and Solution Architects to architect an infrastructure that will support the solution that the solution architect puts forward. They will work at a high level and work with functional and non-functional requirements set by the Enterprise and Solution Architects.
I always try and keep it clearly defined and differentiated that architecture is not engineering or delivery, when doing engineering I am highly focussed on the how of a solution, How to deliver it, how to power it, how to configure it, how to setup a storage pool or resource cluster, how to connect x to y, etc.
Architecture can be seen as the philosophy that underlies any system. It defines the purpose, intent, and structure of a system. Architecture is the discipline of addressing business needs and requirements with people, process, and technology. I also try and maintain awareness of what domain I’m working in, There are various perspectives or kinds of architecture, including enterprise architecture, business architecture, data architecture and application architecture, all of these are very different and yet very similar to infrastructure architecture.